Real estate developer George Slye cofounded Spaulding & Slye in a single office with “a wastebasket, and no capital,” he used to say.
It was 1966. Mr. Slye and Charles “Hank” Spaulding had met at a conference and decided to launch a new company that would eventually reshape the city’s skyline and its suburbs and become a venerable institution in Massachusetts real estate.
“George was a superb businessman, with a unique knack for predicting the future, whether it was in the field of real estate, the stock market, or the economy in general,” said his friend Donald A. Guloien, president and CEO of Manulife Financial.
“He was clever, passionate, and personable. It was no surprise to anyone who knew George why he was so phenomenally successful,” Guloien said.
Mr. Slye, who was a past president of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board and renowned collector of model skyscrapers, died July 13 at his home on Lake Winnipesaukee in Tuftonboro, N.H., from leukemia. He was 81.
His commercial projects included the 16-story One Washington Mall near City Hall and New England Executive Park offices in Burlington. Spaulding & Slye’s first project was a bank building in Central Square.
The Burlington-based company had grown to about 500 employees and had a major Washington, D.C., operation when it was sold for $150 million in 2005 to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.
Outgoing and quick with a joke, Mr. Slye was often the public face of Spaulding & Slye.
“He was the master of marketing and promotion. He had tremendous presence and a unique knack for understanding people,” said James B. Karman, who first went to work for Mr. Slye in 1973 and rose to become the company’s chairman.
Karman, who is now an international director for Jones Lang LaSalle, said Mr. Slye and Spaulding “complemented each other” and created an opportunity-rich environment for young employees. “George gave me the opportunity to join the company and I will forever be grateful for that,” he said.
Born George Edward in Boston, Mr. Slye grew up in Wellesley, where he graduated from high school in 1948. His father, Charles, managed the Office of Laboratory Supplies at MIT. His mother, Evelyn (Matteson), worked at Babson College.
As a boy, Mr. Slye worked “digging graves and mowing lawns” at a local cemetery to help his family during the Depression, and he never forgot those lean years.
“He always had a feeling it could all go away at any time,” said his son David, of Boston.
Mr. Slye earned his undergraduate degree from Babson College in 1953. He joined the Navy after college and became a lieutenant commander. After 16 more years in the Naval Reserve, he earned the rank of commander.
In 1953, he married his high school sweetheart, Susan (Morrison). They divorced after more than 20 years of marriage and four children. She died in April at age 81.
Mr. Slye later married Suzanne (Goodwin). In addition to his wife and son David, Mr. Slye leaves another son, Paul E. of Los Angeles; daughters Robin S. McNutt of Springfield, Minn., and Janet S. Meagher of Bow, N.H.; a stepson, Curtis C. Garrett of Orange County, Calif.; a brother, Major Kenneth M. Slye of Louisville, Ky.; 12 grandchildren; and four step-grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Slye’s life is planned for 1 p.m. on Oct. 3 at the Babson College Glavin Family Chapel in Wellesley. Burial will be private.
David Slye recalled his father’s early love of model cities and trains. Mr. Slye built a model of Manhattan out of wood in the family’s basement and had a working model train emblazoned with the letters SASCO chugging through the backyard. His sons later realized the letters represented Spaulding & Slye Co.
As Mr. Slye’s success grew, so did his model cities. His miniature world of cityscapes created with detailed, scale models of the world’s most famous skyscrapers, made by professional model builders, was featured in National Geographic.
“I started making models of buildings and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to see all the world’s tallest and most famous buildings together in one citystate at the same scale, so you could observe how they are compared to one another?’ ” Slye told the Globe in 1999.
Mr. Slye’s early business career was in sales and promotion for Texaco in 1958, just as the nation’s Interstate Highway System was being built.
He later worked in real estate planning and management at Dwight Building Co. of New Haven and at American Urban Corp. of Meriden, Conn., where he became executive vice president and secretary.
In Boston in the 1970s, Mr. Slye was a leading figure in property owners’ quest to end rent controls. He chaired the Greater Boston Real Estate Board’s Rental Housing Association and argued that rent control and other regulations were at the heart of a housing shortage in the city.
The board named him Realtor of the Year in 1977. When he became president of the board in 1980, Mr. Slye accepted the gavel with a speech titled, “Where Will Our Children Live?”
After handing over leadership of Spaulding & Slye in the late 1980s, he made other business investments and advised several companies. He served on the boards of the Manufacturer’s Advisory Corporation of Toronto and NVR Inc., a publicly traded homebuilding and mortgage company.
In an interview Monday, NVR founder Dwight Schar said Mr. Slye’s more than 15 years on the company’s board of directors coincided with a meteoric rise in the company’s stock. “When he came on the board, the stock was $5 a share, and when he left it was $800. He was a good guy,” Schar said.
Schar said he will remember Mr. Slye’s “great sense of humor,” his wisdom, and his “congenial style.” He added: “ When things were going tough, he was always the guy to be counted on.”